Some advice for Suffolk mums - having it all is impossible unless you have help
PUBLISHED: 14:43 11 March 2017
I sometimes wonder if my son thinks he has two mothers, writes Ellen Widdup.
There is the one who feeds him supper, puts him to bed, makes him breakfast and cares for him when he’s ill. That’s me.
Then there is the woman who looks after him during school hours five days a week: playing with him, reading to him, taking him on outings and treating him to adventure. That’s Donna.
I mopped up the sick last time he was poorly. She was first to push him on a swing. I watch him sleep. She makes him giggle. I bought him his first pair of shoes. She witnessed his first step.
It would be easy to feel resentful of the magical bond they share. Jealous of the time they spend together. Bitter for all the bits I miss.
But actually I am relieved.
Relieved that he is loved. Relieved that he is happy. Relieved to have support. And relieved that I am not losing my mind trying to juggle everything.
Because “having it all” is an impossibility. And help may be a four-letter word but, my God, it’s a beautiful one.
I didn’t feel shame for hiring a cleaner when I could no longer fit in the dusting. And I didn’t show an ounce of remorse at enlisting the help of a gardener either – I’ve never had green fingers.
But for quite some time after finding a childminder for my youngest, I felt guilty.
He was only a few months old and my older children had been gifted my undivided attention for the first year of their lives.
I thought he would be getting less than I gave them. That I was letting him down. But, as it turns out, I’ve given him so much more.
After all, I was trying to run a business in the half-hour segments when he napped; and typing with one hand, a bottle of milk in the other and a rattle between your teeth, is faintly ridiculous. I didn’t have time for eye-contact, let alone nursery rhymes and pat-a-cake. So he wasn’t getting anything out of it at all.
With Donna to man the fort between 9.30am and 3.30pm I’ve become a better parent.
After a day in the office I relish every moment I get in the early evening, and weekends are a joy.
I have time – designated time – to listen, to play, to cuddle.And I have the peace of mind that, come Monday morning, with my older kids in school, the little chap will be with someone who loves him almost as much as I do.
I used to think childcare was for people who don’t have time for their kids. I used to think doing it all yourself made you some sort of martyr. The all-giving, all-knowing, selfless superhuman.
But while I love my children unconditionally, and with a fierceness that is almost irrational, I have come to realise that I do not have to spend every waking minute with them to prove it.
Yes, childcare can be expensive. And some mothers can’t justify working for that very reason. Others rely on the goodwill of grandparents or friends.
But while I pay a large portion of my salary for the help I get, the sanity it gives me is priceless.
Most career women I know follow the Fight Club rules when it comes to full-time child care.
Rule number one: Don’t talk about your nanny.
Rule number two: Don’t talk about your nanny.
Well, my childminder is the only reason I still have a career.
On Friday, instead of caring for my baby, I sent 18 emails, had a meeting with a client and transcribed an interview.
My son, meanwhile, hung out with a great teeming mass of chums as they skittered about from playground to playgroup.
He has been to the beach, fed the seagulls, eaten chicken noodles, squashed playdough and decorated a Mother’s Day card with shiny stars and pipe cleaners.
A Mother’s Day card that is destined for me. Because as well as caring for my son as if he were her own, Donna is the one who regularly reminds me that it is my fear, guilt and constant doubt that makes me not just his mum but a good one too.
You can find Ellen tweeting here